Partner’s Report (07/10) Vol. 2010, No. 7,

Law firms have come to recognize the need to develop internal leaders by collectively spending millions of dollars on leadership training programs. According to a report in The National Law Journal by reporter Leigh Jones, however, questions remain whether these firms are seeing tangible returns on these investments. Paul Zweir, a professor at Emory University School of Law, notes that so-called “leadership training” is sometimes only a way to get lawyers on board with a firm’s strategy, and calling it leadership training is one way to acquire more participants. Even so, Zweir says leadership skills are necessary for lawyers, adding, “Any time people get together to talk about something other than billable hours, I think it’s valuable, whether or not you can say that it has really changed their behavior.” Training participants have given positive feedback about such programs, citing enhanced knowledge and client-relationship management and benefits in terms of networking and making new connections. Law firms primarily sign up for leadership training as a way to integrate cultures and individuals, says Judy McHugh, senior director of Wharton Executive Education. If a law firm does not see discernible results from spending money on leadership training, they may be using the wrong approach, suggests Larry Richard, attorney and psychologist with Hildebrandt Baker Robbins. Programs usually fall into one of two categories: conceptual education and skills-based education. Popular programs are of the conceptual kind, using the case-study method, but lawyers also need skills-based, long-term training to enhance specific, measurable behaviors. To determine a program’s effectiveness, firms should administer competency-based surveys to attorneys before and after training. Fewer firms this year have been participating in leadership programs, possibly because of the economic slowdown. Richard has estimated that 60 percent of law firms seriously committed to leadership development before the recession have cut back on leadership spending.

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EDSI Commentary
The most progressive law firms have discovered that skills-based leadership training is necessary for firm growth.  A legal education does not automatically translate to management and leadership skills without training.